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The highest-paid dead celebrities today, and where their money really goes

Who makes most from beyond the grave?

<p>Kevin Mazur/WireImage</p>

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Forbes recently dropped its annual list of the highest-paid dead celebrities – and some of the names in the latest edition might surprise you.

From music icons to beloved authors, read on to discover the 13 stars featured and find out how much money their estates made in 2023. We'll also explore who benefits from each star's millions, from family members to estate management companies.

All dollar amounts in US dollars.

The methodology behind the list

<p>David Redfern/Redferns</p>

David Redfern/Redferns

So how has Forbes calculated who's on the list and what they've earned? The 2023 list of the highest-paid dead celebrities includes pre-tax earnings derived from sales, streams, licensing agreements, and other revenue streams from 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023. In addition, it also factors in estate acquisitions that were either completed or announced during the same period.

The list has been compiled using data provided by Luminate and further bolstered by insights gathered via interviews with entertainment industry insiders. It's worth noting that fees for agents, managers, and lawyers have not been subtracted from the earnings.

With all that in mind, let's find out who the top 13 highest-paid dead celebrities of the past year are...

13. Marilyn Monroe: $10 million (£8m)

<p>Bettmann / Contributor</p>

Bettmann / Contributor

Screen siren Marilyn Monroe was an icon of Old Hollywood and still captivates audiences today with her performances in cinematic classics such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot.

Her meteoric rise was cut tragically short when she died aged just 36 in 1962. Monroe was more than just an actress, and her influence remains strong six decades after her death. The blonde bombshell's enduring popularity and timeless style helped her estate rake in $10 million (£8m) from licensing and merchandising deals.

These ventures include a false lash and press-on nail line from Kiss, a lingerie collection by Fleur du Mal, and even a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with Zeblocks.

13. Marilyn Monroe: $10 million (£8m)

<p>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images</p>

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

So who actually profits from Marilyn Monroe's estate today? The star left 75% of her intellectual property and estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, while the remaining 25% was gifted to her psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris.

When Dr. Kris passed away in 1980, a portion of Monroe's estate was donated to the Anna Freud Centre in London, an organisation supporting children with mental health conditions. Strasberg's share of the estate was inherited by his wife, Anna Mizrahi, in 1982. Mizrahi established the lucrative Marilyn Monroe LLC to manage the licensing and monetisation of Monroe’s name, image, and likeness.

In 2011, Mizrahi sold her 75% share in the Monroe estate to Authentic Brands Group, a company specialising in brand development and marketing. The deal was estimated to be worth between $20 million (£16m) and $30 million (£24m), and Authentic Brands Group still holds the lion's share of the Marilyn Monroe estate today.

12. Arnold Palmer: $10 million (£8m)

<p>Bettmann / Contributor</p>

Bettmann / Contributor

American golf legend Arnold Palmer is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 87 due to heart problems. Though Palmer banked a fortune from his golfing career, another major money-spinner was his namesake beverage line. His popular half-lemonade, half-iced-tea drink was launched in 2001 in partnership with the Arizona Beverage Company.

The Palmer estate still earns millions in royalties from the wildly successful drinks brand, which expanded in 2018 to include more flavour options. As a result, Palmer's estate generated an impressive $10 million (£8m) in 2023.

12. Arnold Palmer: $10 million (£8m)

<p>Mike Ehrmann/WireImage</p>

Mike Ehrmann/WireImage

Upon his death, Arnold Palmer bequeathed $10 million (£8m) of his fortune to his widow, Kathleen. An additional $10 million (£8m) was left to his non-profit organisation, Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation. Launched in 2015, it provides financial aid to charities that help children, families, the environment, and communities.

A portion of Palmer's fortune was also allocated to settle debts with creditors and compensate former employees. However, his two daughters, Peggy and Amy, inherited most of Palmer’s estate, including golf courses, properties, and merchandise licensing. The heiresses most likely also profit from the royalties generated by his beverage line.

11. George Harrison: $14 million (£11m)

<p>Fox Photos/Getty Images</p>

Fox Photos/Getty Images

George Harrison rose to fame as a member of the legendary British rock band the Beatles. Fans lost him far too soon when he passed away in 2001 after a battle with cancer. He was 58 years old.

Thanks to the enduring popularity of the Beatles' music and Harrison's successful solo career, his estate still generates millions annually, earning an impressive $14 million (£11m) in 2023 alone. The Harrison estate also receives a slice of the profits from the immersive Cirque du Soleil show Love, based on the Beatles' song catalogue.

11. George Harrison: $14 million (£11m)

<p>Dave Benett/Getty Images</p>

Dave Benett/Getty Images

Following Harrison's death, the majority of his estate was left to his wife Olivia (pictured together) and their son Dhani. According to the BBC, other family members and charities also received portions of Harrison's fortune.

Olivia and Dhani have played a key role in overseeing the estate and preserving Harrison's legacy. However, in 2022, music company BMG signed a publishing agreement with the Harrison estate to manage his music catalogue. The late star's catalogue encompasses his work with both the Beatles and the 80s supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, as well as his solo music.

10. Bing Crosby: $14 million (£11m)

<p>American Stock/Getty Images</p>

American Stock/Getty Images

The multi-talented Bing Crosby gained fame as both an actor and a singer. Arguably best known for his hit holiday song White Christmas, one of the best-selling singles of all time, he passed away from a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 74.

Although almost five decades have passed since his death, the Crosby estate still earns millions from his music catalogue. His estate recently released the posthumous album Bing Crosby's Christmas Gems, which features the digital debut of his iconic collaboration with David Bowie, Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy. Surprisingly, the record doesn't include White Christmas.

Overall, the Crosby estate banked a remarkable $14 million (£11m) in 2023.

10. Bing Crosby: $14 million (£11m)

<p>UPI/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)</p>

UPI/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Before Crosby died, he set up a "living trust" to ensure his loved ones would be provided for. This trust allocated cash gifts to various people, including his widow, sister, cousin, four nieces, and numerous business associates. All seven of Crosby's children were also provided for. On a charitable note, both Gonzaga High School and Gonzaga University, which Crosby attended in his hometown of Spokane, Washington, as well as St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Spokane, were also beneficiaries.

In 2021, the living Crosby heirs decided to sell a stake in his estate to Primary Wave Music to manage his song catalogue. The deal is believed to have been valued at over $50 million (£40m).

9. Bob Marley: $16 million (£13m)

<p>Pete Still/Redferns</p>

Pete Still/Redferns

The late Jamaican music icon Bob Marley is regarded as a pioneer of the reggae genre. His timeless hits include One Love, Redemption Song, and No Woman, No Cry. Tragically, Marley passed away at the age of 36 in 1981 after a battle with cancer.

More than four decades after his untimely death, Marley's music remains popular. His name and image have also been used for a diverse range of merchandise, ranging from headphones and speakers to clothes and sneakers.

Last year saw the opening of the first Marley-branded cannabis dispensary in Jamaica, and a biopic about the legendary musician, starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, has just been released. These various ventures have helped the Marley estate earn a sizable $16 million (£13m).

9. Bob Marley: $16 million (£13m)

<p>Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)</p>

Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Marley didn't leave a will when he died, meaning Jamaican law dictated the estate's division. It was declared that 10% would go to Marley's widow, Rita, with an additional 45% distributed to her throughout her lifetime, while the remaining 45% would be shared equally among his children.

However, the decision was contested, leading to a decade-long legal battle between Rita, Marley's children, former band members, and his music label. In 1991, the court finally ruled in favour of Rita Marley and Chris Blackwell's Island Logic Ltd., which had been managing Marley's estate since 1989.

Meanwhile, his 11 children were given exclusive rights to Marley's name, likeness, and image for commercial purposes. Island Logic Ltd. continued to control the estate for another decade before it transitioned to Marley's 11 children. Today, the estate is run by four of his children under the name House of Marley, while his remaining offspring have seats on the board.

8. John Lennon: $22 million (£18m)

<p>Michael Putland/Getty Images</p>

Michael Putland/Getty Images

George Harrison isn't the only member of the Fab Four to feature in our round-up. The late John Lennon rose to fame with the Beatles, but the musician-turned-activist's life was cut short in 1980 when he was murdered at the age of 40.

Lennon's estate continues to earn millions from his music catalogue, which includes both his solo work and his contributions to the Beatles. Even though it's been more than four decades since Lennon's death, his music catalogue is still expanding. Last year, the Beatles released a brand new song titled Now and Then, which used AI technology to bring all four band members together one final time. The track, which became a number one hit in November, is based on one of Lennon's demos from the 1970s.

Thanks to the enduring popularity of Lennon's music and the advanced powers of AI, his lucrative estate earned an impressive $22 million (£18m).

8. John Lennon: $22 million (£18m)

<p>Keystone Features/Getty Images</p>

Keystone Features/Getty Images

Following John Lennon's sudden death, his estate was primarily owned and managed by his widow, Yoko Ono. The couple are shown here together.

Lennon's sons, Julian (from his first marriage to Cynthia Powell) and Sean (who he shared with Ono) were also named as beneficiaries of the estate. Ono primarily managed the Lennon estate until 2021 before retiring from the public eye, leaving Sean in charge.

7. Whitney Houston: $30 million (£24m)

<p>Suzie Gibbons/Redferns</p>

Suzie Gibbons/Redferns

Powerhouse songstress Whitney Houston became a music icon with hits such as I Will Always Love You, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and Saving All My Love for You. Tragically, her life ended in 2012 when she drowned in a hotel bathtub at the age of 48.

More than a decade after her untimely death, Houston's estate continues to make millions, bringing in a sensational $30 million (£24m) in 2023. A huge portion of this is due to savvy brand collaborations, including a make-up line with MAC Cosmetics inspired by some of Whitney's most iconic looks. Her estate also profited from the 2022 biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which grossed nearly $60 million (£48m) worldwide.

7. Whitney Houston: $30 million (£24m)

<p>Jason Merritt/Getty Images</p>

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Houston left her entire estate to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown (pictured together), who was just 19 years old when her mother passed away. Brown herself died just three years later at the age of 22. She was also found unresponsive in a bathtub, in circumstances that eerily echoed her mother's demise.

Following Bobbi's shock death, Houston's estate was transferred to her mother, Cissy, and her two brothers. However, Cissy later stepped down from her role, and Whitney's sister-in-law, Marion "Pat" Houston, now controls the estate.

6. Prince: $30 million (£24m)

<p>Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)</p>

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The late American musician Prince cemented his status as a music icon with hits such as Purple Rain, Kiss, and When Doves Cry. He died from an accidental overdose in 2016, aged just 57. Prince's estate remains profitable, with his music catalogue still proving hugely lucrative. And his discography continues to grow even after his death.

Three posthumous albums of the star's music have been released, along with a remastered version of his iconic 1991 album, Diamonds and Pearls. This new edition features 47 unreleased tracks and previously unseen concert footage. With all that in mind, it's perhaps unsurprising that Prince's estate brought in $30 million (£24m) in 2023.

6. Prince: $30 million (£24m)

<p>Theo Wargo/WireImage</p>

Theo Wargo/WireImage

Prince passed away suddenly and without a will, resulting in his six half-siblings being named as his heirs. However, this led to a lengthy legal battle over his estate, which wasn't resolved until 2022.

The final ruling determined that the estate of the late music legend should be divided equally between Prince Legacy LLC and Prince OAT Holdings LLC. Prince Legacy LLC comprises interests previously held by three of Prince's half-siblings, while Prince OAT Holdings LLC is owned by the music publishing company Primary Wave.

5. Charles M. Schulz: $30 million (£24m)

<p>CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images</p>

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The late American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz is famous for creating the Peanuts comic strips, which featured beloved characters such as Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Schulz passed away in 2000 at the age of 77 – and, more than two decades after his death, his estate continues to make mega-bucks, raking in $30 million (£24m) in 2023. The characters from Peanuts appear on a wide range of merchandise, including Apple watches, branded cookware, and sneakers. Meanwhile, Apple TV+ has brought the Peanuts gang to the screen by airing various TV spin-offs and holiday specials.

5. Charles M. Schulz: $30 million (£24m)

<p>Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)</p>

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)

Since the death of Charles M. Schulz, his estate has primarily been managed by his family, with his widow Jean taking the lead.

Jean has overseen various aspects of the estate, from publishing new Peanuts material to licensing and merchandising agreements. She also oversees the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Centre in Santa Rosa, California which is dedicated to preserving her husband's legacy.

4. Dr. Seuss: $40 million (£32m)

<p>Gene Lester/Getty Images</p>

Gene Lester/Getty Images

The late Dr. Seuss is regarded as one of the best children's authors of all time. He wrote over 60 books, including The Cat in the HatHow the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Dr. Seuss passed away in 1991 at the age of 87 after a battle with cancer. Yet more than three decades after his death, his estate remains a major money-spinner, having made $40 million (£32m) in 2023. His estate largely profits from sales of his back catalogue and new releases, while licensing the rights to classic characters like the Lorax, the Grinch, and the Cat in the Hat is also a huge earner.

4. Dr. Seuss: $40 million (£32m)

<p>James L. Amos/Corbis via Getty Images</p>

James L. Amos/Corbis via Getty Images

Following the death of Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, his widow, Audrey Geisel, took over the management of his estate and the licensing of his work. She founded Dr. Seuss Enterprises in 1993 and ran the business until her death in 2018.

It's currently unclear who owns the lucrative estate. In 2021, it was reported that a woman named Susan Brandt was serving as the president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, but it's not certain if she owns a share in the company. While Dr. Seuss didn't have any biological children, he did have two stepdaughters, Lark and Leagrey, courtesy of Audrey's previous marriage. It's unknown if they were named heirs after their mother's death.

3. Ray Manzarek: $45 million (£36m)

<p>TPLP/Getty Images</p>

TPLP/Getty Images

The late Ray Manzarek, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 74, was best known as the keyboardist and founding member of the rock band The Doors.

Last year, Ray Manzarek's estate, along with living guitarist Robby Krieger, sold their share of The Doors' music catalogue to Primary Wave. The deal included rights to their recorded music, publishing, trademarks, merchandising, and other related income. However, drummer John Densmore and the estate of Jim Morrison have retained their stakes in The Doors’ rights. As a result of the deal, Manzarek's estate earned $45 million (£36m) in 2023.

3. Ray Manzarek: $45 million (£36m)

<p>Chelsea Lauren/WireImage</p>

Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

As mentioned, Primary Wave acquired the rights to Manzarek's music catalogue, publishing, trademarks, merchandising, and more in a juggernaut deal.

Prior to this, Ray Manzarek's estate was most likely controlled by his family. The rock-and-roll icon is survived by his wife, Dorothy Fujikawa, and their son, Pablo Manzarek.

2. Elvis Presley: $100 million (£80m)

<p>Bettmann / Getty Images</p>

Bettmann / Getty Images

The late Elvis Presley cemented his status as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" with classic hits including Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, and Suspicious Minds. The iconic performer passed away tragically young, dying from a heart attack in 1977, aged just 42. However, almost five decades later, Presley's legacy endures, with his estate pulling in an eye-watering $100 million (£80m) in 2023 alone.

In addition to his lucrative music catalogue and image rights, Presley's Graceland estate makes a fortune, having attracted 600,000 visitors in the past year. Graceland boasts multiple income sources, such as entry fees and merchandise lines. What's more, an Elvis Presley holographic projection concert experience is coming to London this year, with shows also planned in Las Vegas, Tokyo, and Berlin, so it looks like his estate will continue to be a money-spinner in 2024.

2. Elvis Presley: $100 million (£80m)

<p>Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images</p>

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Upon Presley's death, he left his entire estate to his only child, Lisa Marie Presley. As Lisa Marie was only nine when her father died, the estate was managed by Presley's ex-wife, Priscilla, with Lisa Marie eventually taking control on her 25th birthday.

Shockingly, Lisa Marie died last year at the age of 54. Her sudden death sparked a legal battle for control of the Elvis estate between Priscilla Presley and her granddaughter, Riley Keough (pictured together). Lisa Marie had left all of her assets to her adult daughter, Keough, and her teen twins, Harper and Finley Lockwood, a decision contested by Priscilla.

The battle has since ended, with a judge ruling in favour of Riley. She's now the lucrative estate's sole trustee.

1. Michael Jackson: $115 million (£92m)

<p>Kevin Mazur/WireImage</p>

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

From the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" to the "King of Pop". Music legend Michael Jackson found fame with tracks such as Thriller, Billie Jean, and Smooth Criminal before passing away in 2009 at the age of 50. An investigation into Jackson's untimely death led to his doctor, Conrad Murray, being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for administering a lethal cocktail of drugs to the singer.

Jackson's estate continues to earn millions each year, bringing in a remarkable $115 million (£92m) in 2023 alone. The estate profits from the hit Broadway musical based on his music, MJ: The Musical, which grossed around $85 million (£67.1m) in ticket sales this past year. Additionally, it earns a slice of the revenue generated by the Cirque du Soleil show Michael Jackson ONE, staged in Las Vegas.

And it appears the Jackson estate will continue to be a financial powerhouse for some time. A movie about the star's life will hit cinemas this year, with his nephew Jafaar Jackson starring as MJ. And just this month, Sony Music Group bought a 50% stake in Jackson's music catalogue for an eye-watering $600 million (£474m). The mammoth deal is the biggest ever for the work of a single musician.

1. Michael Jackson: $115 million (£92m)

<p>Ray Mickshaw/FOX via Getty Images</p>

Ray Mickshaw/FOX via Getty Images

So, who profits from the lucrative Jackson estate? Upon his death, Michael Jackson left 40% of his estate to his beloved mother, Katherine. He also donated a 20% share to charity.

The remaining 40% was divided among his three children, Prince, Paris, and Bigi (pictured). They will also inherit Katherine's share upon her death.

On that note, take a look inside the lavish lives of Michael Jackson's kids